New Milford Public School enrollment projected to rebound in short-term, decline over time

First day of the new school year at Hill and Plain Elementary School, New Milford, Conn. Wednesday, August 25, 2021.

First day of the new school year at Hill and Plain Elementary School, New Milford, Conn. Wednesday, August 25, 2021.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW MILFORD — While the pandemic has been credited for a drop in student enrollment in New Milford Public Schools across all grade levels, total enrollment is projected to rebound in the short term and then decline over time, according to a recent study.

At a presentation given at a recent Board of Education meeting, Meghan McGaffin of SLR Consulting provided an analysis of current enrollment and also spoke about enrollment projections over the coming decade.

The study, which looked at enrollment data through the 2020-21 school year, took into account factors such as population, births, employment and home sales in town.

Overall, the population in New Milford —at 28,115 — has remained stable, according to the U.S. Census. Since 2010, NM has seen a decline of about 25 residents.

On the topic of employment, the pandemic hit the town very hard, McGaffin said.

She said historically, New Milford’s unemployment rate has remained just below that of Litchfield County. According to the Connecticut Department of Labor, last year was the first in recent history where town unemployment, at 7.5 percent, was higher than the unemployment rate for the county, which was 6.9 percent.

When it comes to births, data about current births is used to predict kindergarten enrollment five years in the future, McGaffin said.

Through data received from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, New Milford births have ranged from 367 in 2004 to 238 in 2010. From 2015 to 2019, birth rates were pretty stable, averaging 243 a year.

Last year, though, births in town fell to 199, which was a “historic low” for the community, McGaffin said.

In terms of home sales, “the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to high home sale prices in New Milford and throughout the state,” McGaffin said.

The number of single family home sales in town grew from a low of about 200 in 2011 to a peak of nearly 400 last year.

Additionally, there are about 400 future housing units in town that are anticipated to become available, .

The units are located in the following developments: Riverwalk by the Housatonic, 69 Lanesville Road, 189 Danbury Road and 143 West Street, 1 & 2 Bucek Lane/Poplar Street, 38-46 Lanesville Road, 64 Boardman Road, and 69 Sunny Valley Road.

The majority of these developments are one- and two-bedroom, multi-family units.

McGaffin said, however, that those types of homes are often not a “driver” of new students into the area.

“Those tend to be geared for young professionals or people looking to downsize,” she said. “Your major drivers of growth come from three bedroom units.”

Enrollment

While there was a large drop in school enrollment last year, this can be attributed to the pandemic, McGaffin said.

In the 2019 to 2020 school year, there were about 3,900 total enrolled students from Pre-K to grade 12, and the following school year, this number dropped by about 200 students.

Over the past five years, elementary school enrollment has remained generally stable while enrollment at the intermediate, middle and high school levels “decreased consistently,” McGaffin said.

Kindergarten enrollment in the last school year dropped by about 50 students, which has been consistent with trends throughout the state, she added. Factors such as homeschooling, private kindergarten, and delayed entry all play an impact in those figures.

Birth projections, combined with housing and demographic data such as unemployment, home sales, women of child bearing age, fertility rates, and population, are all factored into enrollment projections, according to McGaffin.

The study she referred to, called the Cohort Survival Methodology, relies on data from the recent past in order to predict the future, she said.

Persistency ratios are also used in predicting future school enrollment, McGaffin said. This accounts for factors such as housing construction, residential development, economic conditions, and student transfers.

“Despite last year’s big dip in births, we do anticipate a recovery and then some rebounding of the birth rates,” McGaffin said. “We do expect, by 2025, some recovery back to recent trends of the past for your birthrate, which will then inform future kindergarten classes.”

Housing currently in development in town is yet another factor used when determining future enrollment, she said.

“The two housing developments expected to have an impact on future student enrollment will be the proposed 150 units at 189 Danbury Road and 109 units at 143 West St,” she said.

About 60 students are expected to come out of those two developments. Both of these developments are in the Hill and Plain Elementary School districts. She said, however, that those units are not expected to be occupied until about 2025.

Using district-wide predictions, overall school enrollment in New Milford is projected to continue declining to about 3,500 students (from about 3,700) by the 2030-2031 school year.

She added the number of students enrolled is projected to rebound next year as home-school students, delayed entry students and private school students return to New Milford Public Schools.

“We don’t predict any major, earth shattering changes,” McGaffin said. “We predict a return to the way things had been historically in the district.”

sfox@milfordmirror.com